Ship Creek Trail near downtown Anchorage is always good for a nice walk, even in the winter. It’s at least a little odd, because there are always factories and warehouses just beyond the trees, and of course downtown is never far away, but the trees and the water work their magic quite wonderfully.
In the summer a small shack sells fishing gear near the bottom of the trail, and a good day will see plenty of people hoping to catch something, or perhaps to just pass a little time with a rod in hand. Alongside the shack, one finds an upscale restaurant on a low bridge, all of this under an overpass. The end result is an oddly rustic (almost rural) scene nestled snug into a concrete frame. The restaurant is only open for 3-months of the year
I’ve wandered down this route a time or three now and managed to get a few decent pictures. So, let’s see…
(If you click it, it will grow!)
Ship Creek in August
Ship Creek in December
A couple of months back I found myself in Anchorage without too much to do. On my last day down there the devil that sits on my shoulder lost a debate with the nerdy bookworm that sometimes passes for my angelic adviser, and so I actually chose to do something instructive and educational. I went to the Anchorage Museum.
Don’t be too disappointed; it was actually kinda cool. My favorite part of the museum was actually the science exhibit, much of which was interactive. sadly, I don’t think my pictures and videos did much to capture the brilliance which was that particular part of the museum. Being a museum, the place was of course full of wonderful artifacts and displays casting light on all manner of things Alaskan. Being a cruel fellow, I am not going to show you much of that.
…at least not today.
Today, we are looking at dioramas. A number of these were strewn about the museum, and I managed to get few decent pictures of some. I won’t pretend that this is a complete set, so to speak, as I am pretty sure that a few of thee exhibits told my camera to screw off and I completely neglected to right those wrongs, but at any rate, these are the pics I got. Both my devil-advisor and my nerdy-near-angel hope you enjoy them.
Quick Note: rather predictably, the scenes depicting Alaska Natives seem to have got most of my attention here. Depending on how broad you want your paint strokes to be we can bundle the Native Alaska population into 3, 5, or lots of general groups. I would normally go with 5; the natives of the outer Aleutian Islands (Aleutian or Unangan, depending on who you ask); the Alutiiq (or Sugpiak) of the Eastern Aleutians parts of the Southwest coastal region; Yupiit of the Western coast, Inupiat of the Northern coasts, and Athabaskans who occupied interior Alaska. For those wondering, the Yupiit and Inupiat are the natives once commonly referred to as ‘Eskimos’, but we aren’t going to do that here. …oh, and let’s not forget the Northwest Coastal natives, who are ironically located in Southeast Alaska. When I say “Northwest Coast natives” I am referring to a common classification used by anthropologists to break the Native American population into about 10 distinct culture areas. So, ironically enough, Alaska’s Northwest Coastal natives are in the Southeast. …and if that manner of speaking seems weird, then the devil on my shoulder is well pleased.
I don’t seem to have pictures (even bad ones) for Yupiit or Alutiiq populations. I don’t know if Missed an exhibit or if I just wasn’t in a button pressing mood when I happened upon them. So, we have here representations of 3 native populations (depicted more or less as they might have lived prior to contact). I also have a few other pieces on the Alaskan Railroad, the Aleutian Campaign of World War II, and one beautiful scene of a community that I failed to identify (cause I’m a bad man).
I seriously wonder what the folks out on the Hopi Mesas must have thought of Star Wars. I’ll leave the commentary at that, because I think the photo here speaks for itself. This piece was produced by the artist Nicolas Galanin. It was part of an exhibit at the Anchorage Museum.
I am totally off my game here, so I’ve decided to try and jump start my blog with a new weekly feature. I’m calling these ‘Uncommondays’. I thought about calling them ‘Queered Quickies’, but that isn’t really my cultural capital. Angstie Mondays? Yeah, those I can relate to, and I’m guessing most of you can too. So, I thought it might be fun to throw a little curve-ball at the start of the work week.
Well, fun or not, I’m gonna!
…and I thought I would start this off with a picture I took in early September. Who would have thought I would have met this character in a bathroom in Alaska. Oh the bathroom part makes sense, but I didn’t expect to see him this far North. I mean, Anchorage is a long way from Lake Titicaca. I can only hope the poor guy found some Cappuccino!
…and perhaps a little TP.
This post was going to be called “Fat Loot and Three Cool Characters from Anchorage,” but thanks to the airlines, the ‘Fat Loot’ part is now in the questionable column. Somewhere out there a piece of luggage is lost and looking for its home.
…or maybe it’s out looking to party with the internet service for the hotel I stayed at last week. If you see a band of wifi coverage and a grey-colored stand-up suitcase doing lines of coke at a local strip club, please tell them both to go home.
That said a little stint in Anchorage has yielded a few good memories, not the least of them being a chance to meet some some truly memorable characters.
I first noticed Ziggy‘s name on some of the beautiful mural‘s throughout downtown anchorage. He is responsible for a lot of the pieces featured in this post. On a lark, I decided to google the name and see if he might be found in the area. As it happened, I had only to cross the road and enter the coolest crafts shop in town. That’d be the one piping vintage blues out onto the street, a fact which had not escaped my attention, even if the name ‘Ziggy’ all over the establishment had.
Sometimes the path from 2 and 2 takes the scenic route to get to 4.
Richard Ziegler (that’s long for Ziggy) runs the Arctic Treasures Trading Post, which is also known for its 4th Avenue webcams. You can buy all sorts of Alaskan goodies in this trading post, but Ziggy does the leatherwork himself, so I have a cool new wallet. That much escaped the great suitcase escape of the summer.
My only beef with Ziggy is that he hasn’t done any new murals within the last year, a fact which is almost unforgivable. But seriously, it was a real treat to meet the artist behind so much of the public art in Anchorage.
I first noticed Aunt Phil’s Trunk while looking for links to provide students in my Alaskan history classes. I was looking for short vignettes and flavor pieces to counter-balance the usual dense survey texts, and her website provided quite a few gems for use in the classroom. So, it was a pleasant surprise to find Laurel Downing working a booth at an arts and crafts fair in downtown Anchorage.
Laurel is the person behind this great website. Her path into Alaskan history started with the passing of her Aunt Phyllis. Phyllis Downing Carlson had written quite a bit about Alaskan history in her day, and Laurel picked up the torch when she inherited her Aunt’s life’s work. She wet to school to learn the skills necessary and then began turning out stories about Alaska’s remote past at an astounding pace. She is up to 4 books now, all of them worth a read.
We chatted a bit and Laurel was in high spirits as she had just sealed the deal on some new publications. For the present, I walked away with all four books from her series and a supplement of crossword puzzles to boot. Seriously, this is local history at its best.
…here is hoping my luggage doesn’t pawn all four of those books to pay for booze and cheap sex.
Mike the Pissin’ Off Texas Guy is one of a kind, …which is probably just as well, but hey, let’s just be glad there is one of him anyway. I laughed my ass off the first time I saw his work, the state of Texas sitting snugly inside the boundaries of Alaska. At the time I didn’t think much about it; just an internet meme as far as I knew, albeit a damned funny one. Little did I know, Mike has parlayed one-upmanship over the Lone-Star State into a gig of its own. His shirts are $20.00, but he offers a smaller price to his little buddies from Texas.
Mike seems to do a lot of business at the fair, …Texans are of course his best customers. I think he gets pretty much anyone from down that way right over to his booth, without exception. But it’s all in good fun.
My damned suitcase better not be giving my shirts away, …dammit! Seriously, I know a piece of luggage with some serious explaining to do!
When I tell people I live in Alaska, I almost invariably hear about a visit to Anchorage. Either that or a relative who lives there. It’s the geographic equivalent of saying; “Oh you live in Denver; I’ve been to Albuquerque,” except that Denver and Albuquerque are closer to one another, and more similar. There really is a world of difference between Barrow and Anchorage. The Anchorage skyline is full of mountains, and it doesn’t lack for trees. I always notice those first. And then I notice all the people.
I also notice the artwork.
From my first visit to Anchorage, I took a shine to its public artwork. There is a particular downtown alley so full of murals I find myself headed towards it every time I make it into town. And yes, I am happy this city is part of he state I now call home, which is probably why it makes sense after all hat people bring it up. I never get into or out of Alaska without going through this stopping point.
…which is a very good thing.
I am particularly fond of a number of murals featuring themes from Alaska Natives. The Raven and Eagle symbolism is of course a prominent feature of Tlingit life, and a number of murals feature hunting motifs familiar to Yupit and Inupiat. A few specific highlights of the tour would include:
- A rather bland looking multi-panel piece with just a hint of something devious in it. (Honestly, I don’t know if I got all the panels right, but look closely. There is an interesting twist in there somewhere.)
- A Mural commemorating Alaska statehood. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘Alaskan Mount Rushmore’. It features portraits of Robert Atwood, Bob Bartlett, William Egan, and Ernest Gruening, each of which has been generated out of a range of smaller murals. You can find out more about this piece here.
- A Whaling Wall, one of a series of spectacular pieces created by the Wyland Corporation.
- The Sun Station at the Anchorage Light Speed Planet Walk.
- The Anchorage History Mural by Bob Patterson, …which should probably get its own post some day.
- I’m particularly fond of the murals on the backside of Phyllis’s Cafe, not the least of reasons being that she was kind enough to talk to me about it for a little while. the Tlingit symbolism in the mural is no accident as Phyllis belongs to the Eagle Moiety, Killer Whale clan as I recall. She told me the mural still has a little work to go. Perhaps, I will be taking new pictures of it some time in the near future. I also enjoyed a wonderful meal of King Crab and amber ale in the cafe that evening, the perfect ending to a long trip.
I have by no means captured all the artwork anchorage streets and alleys have to offer, which is good, because I plan on going back for more.
(You may click on a picture to embiggen it.)
The Alaska Federation of Natives held its annual meeting in Anchorage this last week (October 20-22). This is a big event and it’s filled with enough stories to fill many a blog. What grabbed my attention this year was the participation of Senator Lisa Murkowski. Watching the first of two presentations she was to give at this year’s convention, brought to mind two other moments.
First, there was last year’s meeting of the AFN, held in Fairbanks. Senator Murkowski spoke then as well. At that time, she was a write-in candidate for her own office. Her principal opposition, Joe Miller, had secured the Republican nomination for Murkowski’s position. A Tea Party favorite, Miller had been openly critical of Alaska’s tribal corporations. Faced with a near certain Republican victory, Alaska’s Native leadership threw its weight behind Murkowski. Lost in the shuffle, the Democratic nominee, Scott McAdams, struggled to keep in the race.
The Alaska Federation of Natives endorsed Murkowski and she spoke at their convention. Denied the chance to debate Murkowski in a public forum, or to speak on their own, McAdams and Joe Miller made appearances on the floor of the convention. If McAdams received little in the way of attention, Miller must have received a very chilly reception.
A year later, Senator Murkowski took to the podium again, this time at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention center appropriately enough, the very location at which she announced her write-in candidacy. This year, Murkowski took to the floor once during the convention itself, and once again at the closing banquet, both times the substance of her speech was an expression of thanks. If Murkowski’s gratitude was apparent, so was the pride of AFN leadership. They had played a substantial role in getting her back into office, and this year’s AFN proved to be an opportune moment to trumpet that victory.
The second thing on my mind proved to be a very different kind of moment in the politics of indigenous affairs. In early February, 1998, then President of the Navajo Nation, Albert Hale, threatened to shut down the roads passing through Navajo lands. Doing so, he suggested would help to teach non-natives to respect the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation
The immediate response to Hale’s threat was fascinating. Non-Indians wrote all manner of letters to various local newspapers, most of them angry. On the one hand, much of the criticism seemed understandable. Hale hadn’t really put any specific issue on the table, so no-one knew really what he wanted out of the move. (Some of the more cynical among us might have believed it was to draw attention away from an ethics investigation which soon led to Hale’s ouster.) But something more interested proved to be happening in those letters; an awful lot of non-natives were learning the hard way that Indian people’s still held a measure of power in the United States. For all the poverty and corruption one can find in Indian country, for all the problems that tribal leadership seemed unable to resolve, there were at least a few things that they could still do. And one of those things was to make it a lot more difficult to drive through parts of the Southwest.
This is where the other letters from that time come in, the ones from the Navajo people. Many were less than pleased with Hale’s gambit themselves. I was living in Fort Defiance at the time and I recall quite well the shaking heads and office gossip. This was not the way to do things, at least according to the folks I knew. What use is sovereignty if it only means shutting down roads, some seemed to say? It would be far better, so the argument went, to build a road, or at least to repair the roads already there. A gesture intended to show the power and force of the Navajo Nation, Hale’s threats seemed only to underscore the relative weakness of Navajo leadership.
I couldn’t help but think about Albert Hale’s road-gambit as I saw Lisa Murkowski speak at AFN. The basis for the comparison sis simple enough. To me, Hale’s move had always been something of a low-moment in Native American politics, but now I was watching a high one, at least as measured by raw political power. This was Native Alaskans doing what Hale had failed to do back in 1998, they were actually building something. Now as it happens, it wasn’t a road that Alaskan natives built here, it was a political base capable of affecting a major election, but that election itself is precisely what it will take to get the roads built in Alaska’s Native communities. Faced with a threat from an outside source, The Alaska Federation of Natives did what it took to ensure that their own interests were protected.
Such victories are hardly new for the Alaska Federation of Natives, but perhaps that is my point. In a world where native politics is so often relegated to symbolic victories, this organization stands out as one of the major players in Alaskan politics. The theme for this meeting of the AFN was “Strength in Unity,” and what better proof could its leaders offer than the re-election of Murkowski to the U.S. Senate. Here at least, Native Leaders had demonstrated with perfect clarity that they were a force to be reckoned with.